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By Maree Anderson
Jake had hoped to meet Andie’s folks some day, but not like this. Never like this.
It’d taken all his powers of persuasion to convince the distraught couple to leave him to watch over their daughter while they checked in to their accommodation and called Andie’s sisters with an update. He hoped Andie’s sisters got here soon, just in case she….
He shook himself, refusing to even think the words. But as his gaze switched back to Andie, reality sucker-punched him so hard in the gut that he pressed a fist to his belly, holding in the pain while he gasped for a breath.
She was a mess.
Her skin was peppered with freckle-sized weals, like some bastard had shot a load of buckshot down her throat and the shot had done its darnedest to exit her body from the inside out. She had second-degree burns on her left wrist from the voltage passing through the stainless steel backing on her watch, and a raw wound ringing her neck where the gold chain she’d been wearing had superheated and melted into her skin.
She lay there like some damaged waxwork model. Too still. A tragic parody of the vibrant woman he’d fallen in love with.
God. He’d only just found her again. She couldn’t die. He buried his face in his hands, struggling to keep the anguish inside him.
A nurse entered the room to check Andie’s chart.
Jake scrubbed his face with the sleeve of his shirt. He wasn’t ashamed to be found shedding tears over Andie, but all the same, he was mighty thankful the woman gave him a moment to get his shit together before she spoke.
“Are you the boyfriend?” she asked.
Jake nodded, and wished with all his heart it was the truth.
“It’s a miracle she’s alive,” the nurse said. “She’s a fighter, this one. She’s breathing on her own, now.”
She seemed to realize she’d stated the obvious for she frowned.
Jake guessed she was searching deep inside her for something else encouraging to say.
“That’s a good sign. It gives her a much higher chance of recovery.”
“Yeah.” A much higher chance of living the rest of her life as a vegetable according to the doc Jake had overheard discussing Andie’s case.
The nurse’s sharp gaze raked his face, noting the misery and hopelessness that he knew was etched on his features. Her no-nonsense expression softened in sympathy. “Just talk to her—about anything at all. It’ll help.”
“You really believe that?”
She imbued those two simple words with such absolute belief that Jake had to believe it, too. Had to. Because the alternative wasn’t something he could deal with right now. Or maybe ever.
The nurse finished making notations on Andie’s chart. Jake waited ’til she exited the room, closing the door behind her. He cleared his throat, swallowing the huge lump of despair that had lodged there.
What the heck could he tell Andie that might make a difference?
He hadn’t a clue. So he just started talking. And everything spilled out from deep inside him. All his hopes and dreams—hopes and dreams that included Andie. Hopes and dreams he’d hidden deep in his heart and hadn’t had the courage to tell her to her face. Hopes and dreams he’d harbored since the first time he’d spotted her, six years ago, standing outside his old man’s lodge. He’d glanced out a window and spied her raising her face to the sky, laughing as the heavens opened and licking the raindrops from her lips, and he’d felt dizzy, like someone had smacked him upside the head with an iron fist. His heart had skipped a beat, then pounded like he’d sprinted a mile. And when he could breathe again, idiot that he was, he’d turned away. He’d gone back to his desk, told himself it was lust—the kind of lust any red-blooded man felt for a pretty girl, when deep down he’d known it was something far stronger than mere lust.
He told Andie how he wished he’d had the balls to find out her name from one of the staff and track her down, instead of coming back from out of state to find her gone and shrugging it off and taking it like a man. And how hardly a day had gone by that he hadn’t thought of her, wondered how she was getting on.